Celebrating Black History: MSU Libraries to digitize records of enslaved Mississippians for the first time – Mississippi State University February 18, 2020

I noticed this recently on the Mississippi State University (MSU) website – Celebrating Black History: MSU Libraries to digitize records of enslaved Mississippians for the first time: https://www.msstate.edu/newsroom/article/2020/02/celebrating-black-history-msu-libraries-digitize-records-enslaved. There is more in the link above, but it would have put the post over 1,000 words and I try to keep most posts in the 500 – 600 words or less range.

Disclosure: I attended MSU for three semesters decades ago. I did not graduate.

Contact: Anna Owens

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 – 3:11 pm

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University Libraries is helping create the state’s first institutionally supported digital database intended to give greater access to legal records identifying victims of slavery.

The Lantern Project is one of only a few in the South and is funded by a $340,424 grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Committee, a branch of the National Archives. In addition to MSU Libraries, the University of Mississippi Libraries, Delta State University, the Historic Natchez Foundation, Columbus-Lowndes County Public Library and the Montgomery County (Alabama) Archives also are participating.

This undertaking compiles a wealth of 19th-century documents from across the South and, upon completion, will provide a fully text-searchable, indexed collection containing digital images of original documents that include individuals’ names and detailed physical descriptions. Primarily inspired by patron need, the project is based on a similar effort at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture called “Unknown No Longer.”

The database will utilize records created or used by slave owners or the legal system to track enslaved persons, such as inventories, bills of sale, and probate and other court records, which will allow scholars and genealogists to trace victims’ movements and empower descendants to uncover their ancestries and reconstruct family trees impacted by slavery.


Previously, records of this nature have been identified and transcribed by African American genealogist-led projects such as www.afrigeneas.com and www.ourblackancestry.com.

Additionally, the three-year project will illustrate the realities and operations of the Deep South’s slave economy, including the mechanics of slave owners buying and selling human beings as an accepted practice during that time.


“Currently, what individuals can find is limited by their ability to access collections.” McGillan said. “MSU Libraries deeply respects the work African American genealogists have done, and our goal is to make their lives easier.”

-snip–One of the collections that will be featured in MSU’s contribution to the project will be the Todd A. Herring Collection. Donated to Special Collections in 2009, the Herring Collection features a variety of documents related to enslavement in Mississippi, including mid-19th-century freedom papers, individual bills of sale and plantation correspondence. Herring, a former Lincoln University professor of history whose specializations include enslavement and the slavery-based cash crop culture in the antebellum Lower Mississippi Valley, earned his Ph.D. from MSU in 2000.


Donald Shaffer, MSU director of African American Studies and an associate professor of English, said the Lantern Project will lend visibility and legitimacy to an era of history that is often erased or seen through rose-colored glasses.

“Enslavement is a deeply personal narrative involving human beings, and seeing that experience firsthand brings that home,” Shaffer said. “We need to take an unflinching view because we have to tell all stories, even those that might be difficult, if we want to grow as a society, civilization or nation.”


In addition to these efforts, faculty at participating institutions will offer public instructional workshops on use of the database at local campuses and at historically black colleges and universities in Mississippi and Alabama. MSU’s annual E.O. Templeton Jr. Genealogy Fair in June will include one of these workshops, and additional instruction will be held at other genealogy and history organizations by request.


For more information about the Lantern Project, contact McGillan at jmcgillan@library.msstate.edu or 662-325-3071. Visit MSU Libraries at http://lib.msstate.edu/.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.


About Wichita Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's collaborateDealspotr.com
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3 Responses to Celebrating Black History: MSU Libraries to digitize records of enslaved Mississippians for the first time – Mississippi State University February 18, 2020

  1. SLIMJIM says:

    February feels like a long time ago…

    Liked by 1 person

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